Get Bigger Guns With Kettlebell Cleans
Do you ever feel stuck between a functional workout and one that is fun? If you watch serious strength athletes train, there is a lot of resting going on and some very serious attention paid to good form. No complaints from me, as I think trying to get large weights overhead should have a lot of focus involved. But have you ever been in the middle of one of those workouts and wished you were just smashing yourself to pieces and your breath was fast and wild?
Sometimes it seems like if you want to be strong you can’t be allowed have fun. Strength is a serious pursuit, after all. People wear tactical pants when they speak about it, so you know it has to be serious. And on the other side of the coin we have mindless, sweaty “workouts” - single sessions with no other purpose in mind other than to make you sweaty and tired.
What if you could have both?
I first started playing around with this idea after watching a Rich Froning video. (It’s hard not to be a fan of the guy.) One of the things I notice he does a fair bit of is a set of an exercise on the minute. Some of you know this as EMOM - or "every minute on the minute."
Endurance athletes will be familiar with this kind of work as it’s quite common to base entire workouts off performing set intervals. He’s just taken this idea and applied it to strength work. And if you think about all anaerobic work as being the same - because it uses the same energy system - then what I’m about to recommend is not much different to running 60m repeats on the minute for most people. Uphill. With an elevation mask on.
First: Pick an Exercise
The first thing in our plan is to pick exercises that are whole body. Leg extensions won’t cut it for this challenge (although it would be an incredible way to give yourself some world-class DOMS). The second criterion for the exercise is that is needs to be relatively simple. Sorry, but full snatches aren’t a great option here, although power snatches off blocks would work just fine.
My favorite choices involve kettlebells. I don’t have any science to back it up, just personal observation, but quick kettlebell lifts done with high weight for high reps leads to some big muscle gains, as well as leaving you feeling like you’ve just been hit by a truck.
One exercise really stands out for me here - double kettlebell cleans. While there are plenty of great exercises to choose from, many require a lot of technical skill or mobility that many people simply lack. We’re after sucker-punch simple exercises that give that great knockout one-two of being easy to learn and incredibly powerful in terms of results.
The clean is a really fast bicep curl. If you look back at iron history you’ll see that old-time greats like Arnold used to favor cheat curls - what ended up being a reverse grip hang power clean. That’s exactly what the kettlebell clean is, with the added bonus that comes with the swing elements found within it.
Second: Get a Clock and Add Some Weight
Because we’re after strength, muscle size, and getting our ass kicked, we need to come up with a way to make this harder and harder and harder - until we have to quit. The easiest solution is to use a weight ladder. Basically, the longer the workout continues the heavier we’re going to go. The session will be simple: perform ten double cleans on the minute. The challenge is going to be that you use the same weight for five minutes at a time, which will help fatigue set in nicely.
The workout will end up looking like this:
- 1-5 minutes - 12kg bells
- 6-10 minutes - 16kg bells
- 11-15 minutes - 20kg bells
- 16-20 minutes - 24kg bells
- 21-25 minutes - 28kg bells
- 26-30 minutes - 32kg bells
I’m doubtful that many will get to the final rounds at 32kg. For ladies, I recommend starting at 8kg and going up by 2kg each time so that it would look like this:
- 1-5 minutes - 8kg bells
- 6-10 minutes - 10kg bells
- 11-15 minutes - 12kg bells
- 16-20 minutes - 14kg bells
- 21-25 minutes - 16kg bells
- 26-30 minutes - 18kg bells
For those counting - this workout, if done for the full thirty minutes, consists of 300 double kettlebell cleans. For men, it comes out to 6,600kg lifted in only thirty minutes, which is why it will work so well for muscle growth as well as for power endurance and conditioning. (Women end up moving 3,900kg.)
If you want big gains in strength and size precede this part of the workout with either heavy deadlifts or squats. Again, the idea is to use exercises that are relatively simple but offer a lot of bang for the buck. When it comes to developing some impressive upper body size and strength the double clean is incredibly effective. It mimics the action of the hang power clean yet allows people with wrist injuries to still train them, trains the hip hinge better, and allows you to work at a speed to which the fast twitch fibers really respond.
If you hit this workout twice a week for a month I guarantee you’ll be surprised - not just at how your arms grow, but at how many factors like your pull ups and your conditioning grow too.
Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.